Monday, April 7, 2014

Travis Ishikawa

Of all the guys to break camp, the one the fans seemed to suffer the biggest "who he" moment with was Travis Ishikawa. An up-and-down journeyman first baseman, he elbowed Andrew Lambo and Chris McGuiness out of Pittsburgh to Indianapolis, and while Clint Hurdle has touted him as just a match-up platoon player with Gaby Sanchez, he's made all but one start so far in 2014.

He's played for the San Francisco Giants, the Milwaukee Brewers, the Baltimore Orioles, and the New York Yankees. But in the parts of six seasons in the show, he's only earned one starting gig, in 2009 with the Giants, and he couldn't hold that down for the year. Ishikawa strikes out a lot (24% lifetime), doesn't have a lot of pop (20 homers in 871 PA), and over those campaigns posted a total 1.5 WAR. Not exactly a compelling resume, though he did have one trait that the new wave Pirates look for in a player, a good glove. Over that same span, his UZR/150 was 13.3.

Ishikawa's pedigree isn't the usual Pittsburgh sort of background. His father is Japanese-American, his mother is European-American and the west coast native's paternal grandparents were held in an internment camp in Colorado during World War II. But he did meet his wife in a pretty uniquely baseball way: Rochelle, a dental assistant, helped patch up his chicklets after Ishikawa was beaned in the puss during his first game with San Jose in 2004.

Travis Ishikawa - Source: Getty Images

Ishikawa grew up in Washington and attended Federal Way HS, leading his team to the Washington State Class 4A Title as a junior in 2001 and runnerup the following season. He was drafted in the 21st round in 2002 by the SF Giants. The G-Men gave him a $955,000 check to break his commitment to Oregon State University, the highest bonus at the time for a player picked outside the first round, so he was a prep kid with a ton of perceived upside.

He started in rookie ball and was quickly promoted to short-season. Ishikawa split his time between A and short season ball in 2003 with just a blah .233 BA and two homers. Still, in the 2004 pre-season, Ishikawa was ranked the Giants' seventh-best prospect by Baseball America.

The first baseman spent most of 2004 in the Low A Sally League, where his production jumped, driving in 54 runs and banging 15 homers. That earned him a little end-of-year time in High A, where he also got to participate in the playoffs.

Ishikawa was ranked the 10th-best prospect in the Giants' organization by BA entering 2005. Sticking at  High A San Jose, he batted .282 with 22 HR, 87 runs scored, and 79 RBI. He jumped to the number #4 Giant Prospect before the 2006 season and was invited to his first spring camp.

Assigned to AA Connecticut, he didn't have such a hot year, hitting .232 with 10 HR. But he did get his first taste of major league ball. Ishikawa was called up three different times and went 7-for-24 (.292). Then he spent the early off-season in the Arizona Fall League.

In 2007, he struggled at the AA level, hitting .214 and suffering a knee injury. After the injury, he spent the remainder of the season in High A, batting .268 with 13 home runs. But he broke out in 2008 playing between AA and AAA, hitting a combined .299 with 24 long balls. He spent the next two years as a Giant.

He started 2009 as SF's first baseman but after a slash of .261/.329/.397 and nine homers, he was replaced later in the season by Ryan Garko. In 2010, he was bench player, used as a pinch-hitter (.266, three HR) and defensive replacement as the Giants won the World Series.

Ishikawa was DFA'ed at the end of spring training in 2011, losing the last bench spot to Nate Schierholtz, and spent the season with AAA Fresno, batting .251 with three homers. In 2012, he signed with the Milwaukee Brewers, who used him mainly as a pinch-hitter (.257/.329/.428, four homers) and late inning glove guy. Ishikawa spent most of 2013 in the minors, playing just six games for the Baltimore Orioles and one for the New York Yankees. He lost his 40-man roster spot with the Bronx Bombers to Derek Jeter, and Pittsburgh, fresh out of first basemen, gave him a call and a minor-league deal.

He came to Bucco camp as an afterthought, but after posting a .290/.405/.581 slash with three homers while the competition floundered, Ishikawa, 30, found himself on the plane ride north, the only non-roster invitee to earn a 25-man spot. Every first baseman in the league that was deemed the least bit available was on Neal Huntington's automatic dial, but NH said he was happy with his in-house guys if push came to shove.

Huntington should be pleased, at least in the early going. Ishikawa has a homer and a slash of .308/.400/.538, the same pace he set in camp, and so far the first base platoon has a combined line of .286/.375/.476 with an .851 OPS. Hey, it's early in the year and the bats can grow icy even as the weather heats up, but for now the first base spot is holding up its end of the deal, thanks in large part to "who he" Travis Ishikawa.

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